What Should You Do or Say When Someone Else’s Child is Not Behaving Appropriately in Your Home?
Our dear friends, Brenda and Gerald, have a cute and active toddler. When they visit, we provide toys and distractions for two-year-old Kurt.
However, both Brenda and Gerald have a parenting style that might be described as something to the left of relaxed. While they are both loving and nurturing parents, Kurt is their first child and everything he does is cute, wonderful, and special in their eyes.
While we think he’s a gorgeous little boy whom we love to have over, we also are concerned that Kurt isn’t reined in enough by his parents and he gets into things that should be off limits.
Consequently, we are frequently faced with a dilemma. Do we discipline Kurt or suggest his parents do something about his behavior that while developmentally appropriate also threatens many of our prized possessions?
I know we’re not alone in this dilemma. You may face the same problem. For instance, there’s just not enough discipline or limit-setting for a child visiting your home. Or someone else’s child is teaching your child bad habits or clearly breaking rules that are established in your family for your own children.
How should you handle someone else’s child? Can you effectively intervene with a friend or relative’s child without offending the other adult or alienating them forever?
Over the years, I’ve learned some valuable approaches that have worked well for us and for other parents.
One technique which works well is to speak to someone else’s child and that parent at the same time. For example, you could say while looking at the child: “We have a rule in our house. Children do not jump on the couch. How about if we go out in the backyard where you can jump in the grass?”
By using this approach, you are letting both child and parent know about your rules and suggesting an appropriate redirection at the same time.
A second approach we’ve used is to appeal to the other parent’s need to relax and be “off duty” from parenting responsibilities. In this approach, you could say, “Mom, you just relax. You worked hard today. Kurt and I will play with some pots and pans in the kitchen.”
In other words, you’re saying, “I need to get your child away from my valuable vase collection in the living room, so we’re going in the kitchen.”
The most direct approach I’ve seen used bypasses the parent. Here you deal directly with the child. For example, if Kurt is done playing with toys and they are scattered all around a room, you can say directly to the child: “Kurt, I need you to pick up all the toys and put them back in the toy box. If you put all the toys back where they belong, then you can play with them the next time you come over.”
This approach puts both parents and child on notice that there are some definite rules in this house. One of those is that toys get put back where they belong, and if toys are not put back, then they are not to be played with during the next visit.
Another way of dealing with a visiting child and the behavior you don’t like is to ask the other parent for permission to handle a situation. “I’m concerned about Kurt getting bitten by the puppy if he keeps teasing her. Do you mind if I show Kurt how to be more gentle with the puppy?”
Once a parent gives you that permission, you are free to handle the situation and their child in an appropriate way. If they don’t like the way you handled it, they can jump in quicker and deal with it themselves in a future visits.
These approaches aren’t likely to alienate your friends, but they do allow you to have some measure of control in your house. At the same time, it will reduce your resentment of both the visiting child and his parents.